Welcome back to Part 2 of the Student Apartment Hunting Guide! After a holiday hiatus, I’m here to give you all the advice I can muster on a) things to check in each of the apartments you visit, and b) questions to ask a landlord to ensure you’ll be a good fit for the space. (If you missed it, Part 1 covers the basic step-by-step process of securing an apartment/living space in the Greater Toronto Area, as well as some different avenues to help you search for potential locations.) The last thing you want is to move into a space that seems to have everything you need, only to discover that your water pressure ranges between ‘spit’ and ‘dribble’, or that the cellphone reception is atrocious, or that out of the six wall sockets in the living room, only two are functional. All of these hassles are easily avoidable–you just need to be smart with your apartment viewings!
The Basics: A Checklist For Inspection
- Open all of the cupboards and cabinets. You’re looking for holes in the walls that rodents might get through, and you’re also looking for evidence of pests and bugs: poison traps, mouse turds, and bug poop (which looks like black pepper, apparently). If you find any of this, it’s safe to assume the apartment has some pest problems.
- Turn everything on and off again. If the lights don’t work, well, that’s an obvious problem.
- Check that all the outlets are functioning. How do you do this? Bring a small thing with you to plug into each socket–a little nightlight will do, or else your phone charger.
- Check the water pressure for EVERYTHING. Turn the faucets on and off, testing for a) water pressure and b) hot/cold water. Flush all the toilets to see how well they drain. Turn the shower on and test how strong the pressure is there, too.
- Check the cellphone reception in every room. I’m guessing it’d be more than a minor annoyance to discover your new bedroom is a total dead zone.
- Make sure your furniture will actually FIT. Bring a tape measure and jot down the dimensions of the rooms. If your big ol’ king-size bed isn’t going to fit in the bedroom, you’re out of luck. (But less out of luck than if you’d waited until later to find out.)
When I was apartment hunting with my roommates, we usually had one person run around and check all of these things while the other person asked questions of the landlord. That way we economized everyone’s time, and also ensured that everything was being given full attention.
Incidentally, I’d recommend visiting apartments with your intended roommates, if you already know who you’re living with, or with a level-headed friend if you’re not sure yet. Either way, ProTip: always take a buddy!
The list of questions you ought to ask varies depending on how much information you obtained in the preliminary search (see also: how much info was in the advertisement), but this is a good baseline. Adjust as necessary! If you’re not sure whether or not to ask a question, I’d say to err on the side of caution and ask away–there’s nothing like being informed! (You may even be complimented on your apartment-hunt savvy, like we were.)
Knowledge is Power: What to Ask The Landlord
- How long did the last tenant stay? What is the turnover rate in the building? (If the turnover rate is high, that may be a bad sign. It means there’s a reason people keep leaving ASAP.)
- How old is the property? Are there any scheduled renovations? Will they be complete before I move in?
- What is the process for submitting a maintenance request? How long does it typically take for a maintenance request to be fulfilled?
- What type of people live in the complex? (This will give you a general idea of what to expect in terms of noise level, as an example.)
- How safe is the apartment/neighbourhood? Any break-ins in the past year?
- Am I allowed to paint the walls?
- Which appliances come with the unit?
- Is there laundry on-site? In-unit? (Bless you if it’s in-unit.)
- Are there regulated quiet hours?
- To whom do I direct complaints?
- Which utilities am I responsible for? Is the charge per apartment, or split evenly across the building?
- How recent/efficient are the wiring, water heater, A/C unit, etc?
- What are the internet providers in the area? Does installation require the presence of the landlord or a maintenance person?
Never worry about being bothersome or taking up too much time. If everything works out, after all, this is to be your living space. The only person who’s going to have to deal with any oversights is you. May as well take responsibility upfront. If you get funny looks or feel like the landlord is hedging their answers, or refusing outright to answer, then you probably want to reconsider your options.
If you want more resources, and more apartment-viewing tips, here are my top four resources:
- A whole reddit thread on apartment-viewing tips; the top post is a condensed version of the thread. A must-read!
- The Everygirl’s Apartment Hunting 101 post. Includes a different checklist to mine, which the savviest among you will use to supplement what I have here!
- BuzzFeed did a big ol’ apartment-hunting tip post, complete with some very funny GIFs. Great for advice on when to view apartments, like on rainy days, or at night. (Bonus points for the Hamilton reference in the URL.)
- Cracked presents “5 Things Everyone Forgets to Check When Apartment Hunting”. Another must-read. No matter how prepared you are, I’d skim it anyway, if only because it’s as hilarious as it is helpful.
Tune in next week for the third and final installment of the Student Apartment Hunting Guide, where I share best practices for finding and keeping good, responsible roommates!